Boost for Coastal coconut farmers as government introduces high-yield hybrid seedlings

Coconut farmers in the Coastal region have a reason to smile after the government introduced the hybrid coconut tree seedling that matures faster and has high yields.

In collaboration with the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT), The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and the Kilifi County government has already imported and distributed 6,000 Sampoorna hybrid Coconut seedlings from India to farmers in a pilot programme in the area.

The other counties that include Lamu, Tana River, Taita Taveta and Kwale have also done the same in their areas and a 2022 report by the Nuts and Oil Crops Directorate indicated that a total of 84,906 hectares of land in Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Tana River and Taita Taveta counties was covered by coconuts in 2020, compared to 77,556 hectares in 2021.

The report further indicates that 110,013 tones of coconuts valued at KES 5 million were produced in 2020, a slight decrease from 86,554 tonnes valued at KES 5.5 million in 2021.

According to the Managing Director (MD) of MESPT Rebeca Amukhoye, the new variety matures between two-and-a-half to three years and Coastal farmers in the pilot programme regard it as a game changer.

The MD added that her organization had supported 200 hybrid farmers for the testing part to understand how the hybrid variety does in the area.

“We face challenges and the prices of seedlings remain high because we are still importing and we import a seedling from India at 5 USD which translates to KES 700 and this is minus the other costs like port duties,” she said.

Currently, coconut prices at the farm range from KES 10 and KES 50 and retails at between KES 30 and KES 100 depending on the market location.

Salim Rashid Kalu, a farmer under the product from the Msabaha area in Malindi Sub County, Kilifi County said that he had tested the new variety and loved it because of its yielding capacity.

“The hybrid coconut is the best in terms of business since it matures faster and I harvest at least 350 nuts per tree in a season compared to the African tall variety that only produces 50 nuts,” he said.

Kalu who has been selected as a member of the coconut technical committee added that the new variety also has a lot of flesh inside compared to the African tall variety and produces more sap.

In his farm, Kalu has dug several boreholes to provide enough water for irrigating his farm that has 36 Sampoorna hybrid Coconut trees on a pilot programme which he also intercrops with other crops.

Mwalimu Menza who is a senior scientist at KALRO and the chairman of the hybrid coconut variety said that they have been researching on the new variety so that the country can produce its own seedlings instead of importing as a way of bringing the prices down.

”We have 20 acres at the KALRO station in Matuga, Kwale county where we are researching and we have talked to county representatives under the Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) to bring their farmers for training so that we officially role out this programme,” he said.

In Lamu County, more than 15,000 farmers are engaged in coconut farming and they stand to benefit when the project is officially implemented.

James Gichu who is the Lamu County Executive Committee Member (CECM) for Agriculture said that his department had set aside KES 3 million to procure the new coconut variety for its farmers and that they will be distributed to 5,000 farmers in this financial year.

”We have about 15,000 coconut farmers in Lamu County and we have already set aside KES 3 million to purchase the new variety for farmers and we are going to train and capacity build them so that they can benefit from their farming ventures,” he said.

In Mombasa County, the CECM for Agriculture Kibibi Abdala said that the nut was very expensive in Mombasa retailing at KES 120.

“Currently the prices of coconut in Mombasa is very high and this means that the demand has grown because in the past we used to buy at KES 20. We are going to embrace the hybrid coconut so that we get enough produce,” she said.

Saibal K De, the Chief Executive Officer CEO of Deejay coconut farm in India, said that the new variety will encourage the young generation to invest in coconut farming.

”I’m hopeful that interest from the young generation in coconut farming will come back so it will increase employment on a large scale,” added De who sells the seedlings to Kenya.

Charles Wasike who is the Programmes Officer at the Embassy of Denmark, said that the new variety will revitalize the agricultural sector in the coastal region.

“This is a tested crop and we have done it with various stakeholders and prospects are high. In overall agriculture intervention for five years, we have given a micro-enterprise support program trust of around KES 1.2 billion which translates to about KES 150 million for the seven crops targeted.

The East African tall breed which grows to a height of 30 meters has experienced dwindled production while the new dwarf variety is about three meters high and produces more nuts.

Kenya imported 73.91 tonnes of coconut oil valued at 80.71 million an increase of 82 tonnes valued at 91.5 million reported in the year 2021.
The report however estimates that the country would cut its oil import and save over KES. 5 billion annually if it increases oil production from the coconut.

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